Apart But Not Alone - How SGO Helped Seniors During COVID-19
As Singaporeans hunkered down at home during the Circuit Breaker period to stay safe, Mdm Lai Yuet Meng and her husband found the experience more isolating than most.
The elderly couple – Mdm Lai is 75, her husband is 69 – are blind and without children. They were able to lead independent lives, with Mdm Lai’s pension and income from her husband’s work as a foot reflexologist. However, COVID-19 upended that comfortable routine, and the closure of businesses led to her husband losing his job in April.
For a while, they followed the news on the radio closely, wondering like most Singaporeans did when their normal lives will resume again. Mdm Lai decided not to go out too much, to avoid having to put on a mask.
“It’s very difficult for me to wear a mask and walk around. I feel out of breath, like I can’t breathe when I walk,” she says. Even going to the supermarket, a half-hour journey, had become too daunting.
One day, the elderly lady perked up when she heard an ad on the radio – seniors who needed help during this time were urged to call the Agency for Integrated Care (AIC) Hotline.
Mdm Lai dialled the hotline, and was linked up with volunteers from the Silver Generation Office (SGO), AIC’s outreach arm. SGO arranged to help her buy groceries and send them to her house. Volunteers also helped to take her and her husband to the hospital when they were due for a check-up.
Since February 2020, SGO has reached out to about 47,000 seniors, including seniors like Mdm Lai. Through its volunteers, SGO attended to a variety of requests, from grocery shopping, to delivering cooked meals and changing light bulbs. No request was too small.
SGO previously relied on its volunteers, called Silver Generation Ambassadors, to engage seniors door-to-door across Singapore. When Circuit Breaker measures were put in place, SGO needed to change their strategy fast. An SGO spokesperson says:
“Because of Circuit Breaker, we started tele-engagements to replace face-to-face visits. From late April, we reached out to more than 20,000 vulnerable seniors, to check in on them regularly, and offer support for their daily living needs.”
If seniors are uncontactable or do not have a phone, SGO would pay short visits to their homes, while following safe distancing measures, to ensure that they are safe and well.
The SGO volunteers found that many seniors appreciated their effort to help them, and they were often met with warm welcomes. An SGO volunteer, Richard Lau shared his experience with Mdm Sek.
"She (Mdm Sek) looked really happy when I delivered the food to her. She told me that she's thankful that in this difficult period, there are organisations helping those in need and that she is very thankful to SGO."
Check out photos of the SGO outreach below for more heartwarming scenes!
If you know of any senior or caregiver who needs assistance, call the AIC Hotline at 1800-650-6060.
The unprecedented Circuit Breaker period – from 7 April to 1 June 2020 – had knock-on effects not just on Singapore’s economy, but also on the well-being of seniors. As they obeyed strict restrictions to stay home, social isolation set in. The Silver Generation Office (SGO) had put their usual door-to-door outreach with seniors on hold, but resumed limited engagement with the most vulnerable residents from late April 2020. We document their experience in photos.
Photography by Edwin Koo, Captured.